One of every 7 Carter Countians served in WWII

Published 8:24 am Monday, June 26, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
(From a 1964 edition of the STAR)
Almost 5,000 Carter Countians served in the Armed Forces during World War II. They represented one out of every seven men, women, and children in the county.
As a result, Carter County in World War II ranked eighth in Tennessee in number of service personnel, whereas it was 21st in the state in actual population. In World War II, me of Carter County saw service in every phase of the battle against Germany and Japan. Not one major engagement was without a Carter County man participating, and many of these names are inscribed on bricks at the Veterans Wall of Honor in downtown Elizabethton. Some never came back, and their names are etched on a marker at the Veterans War Memorial Park across the street from the Wall of Honor.
Two Carter Countians, Robert C. Duff and William V. Campbell died at Pearl Harbor on that “day of infamy” which set aflame the great war in history. Several local soldiers among the vanguard of American troops who first pushed their way across the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea, and at least a half dozen including photographer William L. Kinch and infantryman Walter Bullock were at Guadalcanal.
Carter Countians were among those who pushed ashore in the first great step against Germany – the invasion of North Africa. Sgt. Alvin Pierce of the “Red One,” the famous First Division, died in action on a “volunteer mission before the Silver Star which he had won for heroism in the early days of the African campaign could be presented to him.
As the war progressed on both fronts, local mean streamed into battle and joined in the staggering task of supplying the fighting men – the greatest problem of logistics in the history of warfare – in which a nation fought full scale war on many, many fronts.
Carter County men were at Attu and Kisa, at Dutch Harbor when Japanese bombers for the first time bombed North American installations.
They were in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands – at Kwajelain, Enowetok, at the bloody struggle of Tarawa. A Carter County soldier was among that little group of flag raisers atop Mount Suribachi when a photographer’s change shot made them famous (those who remained long enough to achieve recognition at all) and became the pictorial classic American victory of World War II.
Carter Countians fought to liberate the Phillippines, where other county soldiers had been prisoners after that gallant defense of the peninsula of Bataan; they fought at Okinawa and in the other islands of the chain which pointed toward the heart of Japan.
A Carter Countian, Lt. John Paty, was aboard the first U.S. naval vessel to enter Tokyo Bay.
On the other sider and perhaps even greater in number, local soldiers fought for the liberation of Europe. It was against the crack troops of Hitler’s Wehrmacht that the famed 30th (Old Hickory) Division, pride of Tennessee, fought with Elizabethton and Carter County men in its ranks.
Company A, 117th Infantry, 30th Division came ashore in France on the D plus 9 and from that day until the end of the war which found them deep inside the Reich, they were almost never out of contact with the enemy. It was this unit which played an outstanding role in the defense against counter-attackers at Mortain (France) when the fate of the entire invasion hung in the balance for hours as Hitler’s Elite Guard (the SS) hammered at the Elizabethton company and those on its flanks in a powerful attempt to break American lines and cut off its supply to the armor making its historic break at St. Lo.
The company was overrun and Elizabethton men who were captured and wounded that day won decorations for gallantry in action. Two who fell into German hands after firing every weapon at hand until fight was no longer possible were First Sgt. Clarence Hale and T/Sgt. Ed Markland. Both were later liberated by the Russians.
Carter County men fought from the beaches of Omaha and Utah, through the hedgerows and swamps of Normandy to the glad day of liberation of fantastically happy Paris, which that day, was truly “Queen of the World.” They fought in the South of France, many who before them had fought the long, bloody, aching struggle up the boot of Italy – Cisterna, Anzio, Cassino, Rome, Salerno, Sicily, before that.
They fought on the ground, on battleships, and destroyers. They lumped and fought from the bomb sights and waist guns of American planes; they fought, were wounded, and died…and others came to take their place and fight.
They were in the Vosges mountains along the Roer that dismal morning when they tried to cross a creek and those who lived wondered how it would be when they came to the Rhine.
Helping the long before – years before – any infantryman set foot on Feasting Europa, were Carter Countians in the air. Roy McKinney established an almost unbelievable record or aerial combat in two hours of duty in medium bombers before he finally came home. Carter County soldiers, scores of them, flew over France and Belgium, Austria and Czechoslovakia and Hungary and the Lowlands, pounding the German war machine into rubble. An Elizabethton man helped bomb Cassino, another bombed Berlin, and more than a dozen disappeared forever in the strange places which they seen only from the air. Among the first of these was Ben Franklin, son of Mr. and Mrs. C.M. Franklin. Among the last was Paul Shultz, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Shultz.
Carter soldiers of the Air Force flew the world over in combat and on missions of supply. World War II soldiers from Carter County could perhaps recall personal experiences in every region on earth, except only the poles.
As they slogged forward across Europe, drawing nearer to the end of the long road to victory, Carter County soldiers remained the forefront of battle. They were in the midst of the great abortive counter-offensive of the Ardennes, and here again local soldiers helped stem the German tide – stopping Nazi units at Stavelot, causing the winter offensive.
They were among the first across the Rhine. An Elizabethton officer, in his first combat, won decorations for bravery that day. He was Captain (then Lr.) Ed Mottern. On foot, in tanks, in jeeps and in trucks along the Red Ball Highway, they raced eastward across Germany to join hands with the Russians.
An Elizabethton man, correspondent Mack Morriss of the Army Magazine Yank, was among the first to reach Berlin – a Berlin which was in inself an immortal monument to the vanquished Nazi reign of terror.
As the end came, Carter Countians were the first to reach home – they were the men who deserved most of all to come home; those who had been prisoners of war. Among these was Capt. James Harry Ritts, taken in Italy, and more than 20 other men of the county  – infantry and armor and airmen – who had spent never-ending days of drab monotony in Stalags scattered over German.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox